A line from Mick Jenkins’ latest mixtape The Water[s] captures the Chicago artist's still-evolving sound:
“I got some Sade I know that we could snap to / Knowledge got some rap tapes I know that we could rap to / Imma roll this joint and prolly light it, you can hit it if you want but know that you don’t really have to.”
Full of tight rhymes over oh-so-smooth jazz, The Water[s] feels like settling into a beanbag chair in a hazy room for some heavy conversation. Feel free to smoke, but that’s not why you’re there.
Jenkins comes from a slam-influenced piece of Chicago's keleidoscopic rap-scene-of-the-moment, and as a relative newbie, he's often defined by comparison. But though he collaborated with Chance the Rapper on 2013 single “Crossroads” and draws parallels with Common, he sounds more like the hip-hop class just behind him -- especially the snide, spoken-word Noname Gypsy, who, along with Pro Era's Kirk Knight and Saba, opens for Jenkins at Leo's on Feb. 27.
Chance the Rapper, after all, is all pivot — fierce snaps between atmospheric minor keys and laughter, choral harmonies and cremation jokes — while Jenkins (and those rising in his shadow) feel smoother, with fewer triple entendres and a desire to tell it straight. Layering ocean sounds, cosmic pings and even pastoral harp samples, The Water[s] escapes new-agery with Jenkins’ lyrical and vocal precision. Whether bending his voice into a playfully slowed-down “jaaaaaaazzzz” (“Jazz”) or spitting the word “martyr” like sour milk (“Dehydration”), he’s master of each nuanced syllable, wearing “his voice like a Sunday suit,” David Drake wrote, perfectly, for Pitchfork. And while The Water[s] isn't as tightly-themed as 2013's Biblical Trees and Truths, its meditations on everything from gang violence to Starbucks dates ("getting lost in these caramel-apple spices") come together through Jenkins' constant desire to dig just a little deeper, a little more.
With Noname Gypsy, who takes on gender and water privatization to light '60s grooves, and Saba, the man behind ComfortZone, Jenkins' show on the 27th will provide a glimpse into Chicago's poetic new serious side.